Leupold makes it easier than ever to add thermal monocular to your gear essentials. Better yet it is versatile and easy to use both in the field and around the home.
By David Link
When I first saw the Leupold LTO Tracker Thermal a couple years ago at SHOT Show, I was taken aback. I hadn’t really spent much time with thermal imaging myself, especially as the devices were extremely expensive and not something I’d generally use myself. Yet here was a affordable (especially as far as thermal tech goes) device machined in that signature Leupold Made In America case. It was easy to use and in my opinion finally made thermal technology accessible to the everyday hunter and outdoorsman. Fast forward and now the optics powerhouse has updated the device to the new Leupold LTO-Tracker 2. Let’s take a closer look at what this device can do and how you can utilize it both at home and in the field.
LTO Tracker vs. LTO Tracker 2
First thing is first, let’s take a look at what is new in the second version of the LTO-Tracker. One big improvement is thermal resolution, and the LTO-Tracker 2 now sports a 204×204 pixel resolution. Essentially we’re talking better image quality even when the device is zoomed. Another big upgrade comes with the new beacon mode. In the earlier version, warm vegetation could overwhelm the sensor and make it tough to pick out game. Beacon mode allows you to fine tune the sensor to read larger heat sources like animals while dimming readings from smaller heat sources like vegetation. The 30 Hz refresh rate is improved as well and cycles faster than the original version. Finally, the LTO-Tracker 2 features a farther detection distance and can now register animals like deer out to 250 yards.
One other note, Leupold also offers an LTO-Tracker 2 HD which has all the features of the standard 2 model but offers increased resolution. Aside from a better thermal picture, the HD upgrade offers better images when the device is used in higher magnification settings.
LTO-Tracker 2 Basics
Now that we’ve cleared up some details on the new generation, let’s get back to everything this device offers. Essentially the LTO-Tracker makes game recovery and tracking through low light and thick vegetation easier for the user. In reverse of a normal monocular, the thermal sensor mounted on the front is smaller than the larger viewfinder on the other end. Three buttons mounted on top of the device control power, zoom and other functions. The device screws in half to reveal where the battery is housed, and it is easily replaced.
As for function, the LTO-Tracker 2 is extremely easy to use, definitely easier to use out of the box than say a complex rangefinder with angle and ballistic compensation features. Just power it on, the thermal boots up quickly, and you’re ready to go. You can cycle through 6 beacon color modes to suit your environment and preferences, and the device let’s you know which mode you’re on as you cycle. Personally I prefer the standard Hi White setting, but they all have their value. There are five different zoom settings up to a max 7x (1x, 1.5x, 3x, 5x and 7x). Note you naturally lose resolution as you bump up the magnification, and the 7x zoom is much more pixelated than the 1x zoom. The new beacon mode is just as easy to manipulate, and it features an astounding 200 different points of adjustment. Simply adjust the device in the negatives to up the thermal sensitivity or click over into the positives to make the device less sensitive to heat. You can easily revert to factory mode by holding all three buttons.
- 206×156 thermal sensor.
- 204×204 pixel display resolution.
- 7x digital zoom, (including 1.5x zoom option).
- 30 Hz FastFrame frame rate.
- 600 yard detection distance.
- 250 yard typical deer detection distance.
- 16.9 degree field of view at 1.5x magnification.
- 1/22″ Direct View display.
- Beacon mode for with -100 to +100 values for detection fine tuning.
- 6 beacon color modes – Hi Black, Hi White, Hi/Lo Green, Black, White, and Green.
- 7 ounces total weight.
- Waterproof resistance.
- Less than 3 second start up time.
- 10 hour continuous battery life.
- 2 year electronics warranty.
- Designed and assembled in the US.
I had already spent a decent amount of time with the LTO Tracker before the new LTO-Tracker 2 sample arrived, but testing this device never gets old. When I showed it to some friends, they were astonished at how it worked. Of course there is the natural Predator film comparison for those that haven’t experienced thermal technology in person before. Truly most of us don’t get the opportunity to use thermal tech very often, and it can be enthralling to try this once inaccessible technology for yourself.
Ease Of Use / Durability
I’ve already touched on how easy the LTO-Tracker is to use, which should alleviate concerns for people shopping for a thermal and worried about potential learning curves. It is easy to handle in the field, and its total weight of 7 ounces is not encumbering whatsoever. The case itself is machined in the US (certain parts are sourced overseas), and it feels just like a rugged Leupold scope body. I don’t know what the impact resistance of this device is, and I certainly wasn’t going to test it for myself. The viewfinder and thermal sensor are recessed so hopefully if you drop it, these more sensitive areas won’t sustain any damage. The device is also 100% waterproof. Knowing how Leupold builds the rest of their products and tests them with the famous “Punisher” testing lab, I’m not worried about construction quality whatsoever. In fact I would venture this device is much more durable than competitor thermals not built with an aircraft-grade aluminum body.
Part of the enjoyment of testing the LTO-Tracker 2 comes in the different beacon color modes. Each mode has distinct strengths depending on your viewing or tracking situation. Naturally the modes perform a little differently in daylight vs. night conditions, but there is plenty to choose from and they are easy to cycle on the fly. You may use one mode to find a downed animal while other modes are better for surveillance. You can also adjust screen brightness to match your viewing scenario. After all you may not want to be blinded by a bright screen as you’re trying to hike in dark terrain. This also comes in handy should you use the LTO-Tracker 2 for home surveillance or potential break-in defense scenarios.
It’s easy to get carried away testing different scenarios and viewing different individuals and animals and completely forget about the new Beacon Mode. However, this added feature new in the LTO-Tracker 2 is a game-changer. Personally when I tested this device at dusk, I was surprised at how many nearby trees registered red on the sensor. Of course it was a warm summer day and the trees had been soaking up heat. Now the thermal sensor can vary as you scan back and forth, and as it becomes adjusted to the environment these readings can fade. However place this device in a jungle or swamp and you could experience a lot of red readings. Beacon Mode changes all this.
It’s easy to dial up or back the sensitivity with the three button interface, and you can do it on the fly as you hike or track. If things get too out of wack, you can simply reset factory settings to move Beacon Mode back to zero. This mode is great for tuning longer range scouting as well. Simply dial back the sensitivity a bit so you get stronger readings from larger sources like deer that are lurking farther away. You could also dial up the sensitivity to pick up blood trails as you track.
Is the Leupold LTO-Tracker 2 for everyone? Probably not. However if you’re a serious hunter, outdoorsman, camper or otherwise gear nut, you’ve got to get one of these devices. It well built and designed, easy to use and perfectly suited for a variety of scanning and tracking scenarios. In fact when you start to think about intended uses, the list grows longer and longer. Yes this is designed as a hunting and scouting tool, but it works great as a self-defense tool or a home improvement tool for finding heat leaks or weak spots in your home. Have a lost dog? The LTO-Tracker 2 would be a great recovery tool. Burdened with some pesky nighttime critters? The LTO will pick them out no problem. The list goes on and on, and I will guarantee you won’t just use this on your hunting trip.
This said if you’re planning that once in a lifetime hunting trip, absolutely add the LTO-Tracker to your kit. This device dramatically increases the chances of game recovery, and you certainly don’t want to lose that lifetime trophy, do you? At $799.99 MSRP, it represents an investment no doubt, but as I’ve mentioned that is about as affordable as thermal technology is right now. Even so this technology is here to stay and you won’t regret having it in your gear kit for years to come.
I also recommend the Leupold LTO-Quest as an alternative to the LTO-Tracker. It’s not quite as easy to pack, but it features a larger screen, added flashlight and the ability to take thermal photos. Either device will be an excellent upgrade to your scouting and tracking abilities.